We are persistently hearing from prospective clients that something feels off with their messaging, seeking guidance on how to reframe it to better elicit responses from their target audiences. More than ever before, nonprofits and foundations understand the need for their messaging to be true to the lived experiences of the communities being served, while also authentically aligning with the organization’s larger mission and values.
Below are three recommendations that stem from our 20 years of experience helping to resolve this very challenge.
1. Build emotional connections through bold storytelling:
Effective messaging will drive action. In order to do so, the language used needs to be tailored to the specific realities of the particular audiences, in order to create the emotional connection that helps inspire a response.
Focus communications around messages that highlight the capabilities of impacted communities, their expertise from lived experience, and fostering contexts of increased equity. If this type of information feels new to you, read up on our Narrative Justice approach, in order to create a context where your team and organization are regularly in tune with dynamics relevant to the people with whom you are engaging.
2. Take stock of what you know:
Approaching messaging from a position of narrative justice, we have observed the value when an organization has a strong sense of what they confidently know, and what they are missing in relation to the larger picture their clients see. It is important to be able to answer questions such as: How does this audience perceive the issue we are working on? How would they describe it? What missing elements, key themes or solutions are evident to them that we have not seen before?
Proactively asking these kinds of questions, listening carefully to the answers received and intentionally integrating lessons learned will help ensure that your organization produces communications that connect with the experiences of people you are serving, and with whom you are in partnership. This also helps you avoid speaking about your topic in ways that inadvertently reveal privilege that you are unaware of, or positioning that lacks relevance for your audiences and therefore distances them from your messaging and intent.
3. Avoid ending the conversation before it ever truly begins:
As communicators, we know the weight of language, how dynamic it is and that it changes according to social circumstances. It is important to identify if your organization is regularly using language or stories that are outdated and framed in ways that inhibit engagement with your audiences. All observations matter. Sometimes dynamics within the everyday functioning of an organization can indicate that something is off with messaging, but often it is difficult to identify the specific problem, and how to resolve it. Keep track of what you are observing, when and with whom communications feel like they are landing poorly or just not working, and when outcomes do not live up to your organizational expectations for communications efforts. This information can help clue you and your team into contexts that may be regularly occurring that are not fully captured by your organization’s current communications approach.
While these tips can seem daunting to apply when addressing an organization’s outdated messaging, especially in light of competing communications priorities, it’s work that is foundational to organizational change.